After four years as Port Macquarie-Hastings Mayor, Peter Besseling is standing for reelection to continue serving our community and its growth. Focus caught up with Peter in the midst of his election campaign …
Hi Peter. For those who don’t follow politics too closely, explain how it works and what your role is as the Mayor of Port Macquarie.
The Mayor essentially is the chairman of the board. My role is to look after council meetings, to make sure decisions are made, and to run those meetings. More broadly though, the Mayor is seen as head of council, so the community come to the Mayor with different issues. I need to be in contact with everyone; I need to have close contact with the General Manager, and there’s obviously a ceremonial role there. I create new citizens, which is one of the best parts of the job that you can actually have – and people also see the Mayor as the face of council.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your four years as Mayor?
Getting the council once again out of administration, connected with the community, and actually delivering for the community. We’ve seen a change in the culture of the council itself; the council staff all the way through are very proud of working on behalf of their community, and I think that connection with the community is there once again. And that wasn’t an easy thing to do after five years of administration.
If you had to pick three things that are most important to people in the Hastings, what would they be?
We tend not to give enough of a relevance to our natural beauty; people come here, they move here from other areas because it’s such a naturally beautiful place today. Our foreshores, whether it be here in town or down at Camden Haven or along the Hastings River out at Wauchope – in these areas people want to be connected and want that sense of community. That’s what we’ve still got – the natural beauty.
I think that does lead into the second thing, which is connectedness for the community. We are still a regional town; everyone knows what’s going on in a regional town – that’s why people like it. We have that community connection, and that feeds into what council is doing.
The third thing is probably the opportunity that’s here; we are a growing area with good opportunity with education, we’ve got great health facilities, we’ve got a regional airport that is expanding, we are halfway between Sydney and Brisbane effectively. There’s great opportunity for people to live, work and enjoy their life here. They’re the key reasons why people live here and why everyone wants to move here.
Growth is vital for a town’s survival. What type of growth do you see being a driving force to the area in the future?
It’s probably no secret, but I think growth in education is going to be key. For years we’ve had people moving out of the area – a lot of our younger people in particular moving out of the area to study. I think having a big university presence here now is not going to necessarily stop that all together; what we will see is less people having to move away to study. We’re also going to get other people’s young people here; we are going to have that cohort, that generation, studying here. We are going to have opportunities, particularly from overseas, so international students are going to be a big driver; international education tourism is on the up …
How we see the airport evolve over time is going to have an impact on people’s ability to come here, but also locals’ ability to be connected to other parts of Australia and other parts of the world.
I think these are going to be the big drivers. Of course, we will always have people wanting to come in to the area, and we will see development in housing and industrial development. It’s important for people who come to a regional area to have a job, so keeping the economy going will be one of the key factors for us as well.
Parking in the CBD; what is the policy going forward for the next four years?
Council has resolved to allow the General Manager to sign a contract with Gowings for what we call the “hole in the ground” on the corner of William and Murray Streets for a larger development of the existing Port Central shopping centre itself; that will provide for a good investment into the CBD.
But for council, it will provide an extra 150 car parks for the development, on top of the extra car parks that will happen as a result of the development. There will be a substantial increase in car parks in the CBD, free car parks from the council perspective, into the short term anyway; we don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term. But, it’s probably one of the few opportunities we’ve got to actually develop extra car parking. As we know, the CBD is pretty chockablock, but that’s a good opportunity for existing carparks to be made better and for council to provide extra carparks, which is exactly the reason council purchased the hole in the ground some years ago.
Port Macquarie Hastings area, 20 years from now – what’s your vision?
Again, it will be a much busier place, and the challenge is to manage that growth with some of the things I was talking about earlier, with the natural environment, and with that connectivity … We will definitely see different transport options; that’s something that we need to take into consideration. I’m not just talking about road transport – whether it be light rail or something like that, a connection between the university hospital precinct and the CBD. But also, other forms of transport, aspects for people riding bikes and wanting to walk into the CBD and around the area; that’s going to be a big driver for Port Macquarie itself.
We will see growth in the Camden Haven, Wauchope and our rural areas. It’s a great place to be, and I think there are a lot of people wanting to come here. The challenge for us is to try and manage that, to get the infrastructure right, and that’s no mean feat – but we have some longer term plans for the area in terms of where residential might be going and where commercial and industrial might be going. Having that broader vision to connect it all to make sure it’s a success is something that council takes very seriously.